CLEARWATER — Gibbs coach Larry Murphy keeps reminding people that his offense is still a work in progress.
Sure, the Gladiators are undefeated, but they lost four starters from last season's team that reached the state semifinals. Murphy has given them the freedom to shoot, the latitude to improvise and the patience to let them work out the kinks.
As the offense is developing, the defense has been dominant.
And that unit came through in the clutch in Monday's 55-39 victory over Clearwater in the semifinals of the Bright House Holiday Tournament. The Gladiators (11-0) will play Sarasota Riverview in the championship game tonight at 8:30 on BHSN.
Riverview defeated Nature Coast in triple overtime, 63-62.
"Our offense still has a ways to go," Murphy said. "But I thought we did a great job defensively. We made them earn every bucket."
After a slow start, Gibbs grabbed crucial rebounds and make pivotal steals. The Gladiators also started hitting shots from the outside as they built a 31-20 lead at the half.
But in the third quarter, the shots were not falling. The Tornadoes (5-4) took advantage and cut the deficit to 33-30.
"I thought we gave a great effort and did a good job of getting back into the game in the second half," Clearwater coach Allen Carden said. "We just couldn't make much of a run after that."
Gibbs again found its rhythm, particularly from the perimeter. The Gladiators made eight 3-pointers, including two late in the third that helped continue to take control with a 38-31 lead.
The Gladiators had four players reach double figures in scoring, including Shaquille Speights and Gary Simon, who each had 13. Harvey Adams led the Tornadoes with 12 points.
SARA. RIVERVIEW 63, NATURE COAST 62 (3OT): The Rams reached the final when Eric Traver hit a short jumper as time expired in the third overtime.
Nature Coast led 38-31 going into the fourth quarter before Riverview made a run to force OT. Tarver, who had 29 points, forced a second overtime by hitting a short jumper at the buzzer.
Caleb Martin led the Sharks with 14 points. Nature Coast will play Clearwater in the third place game tonight at 6:30 on BHSN.